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Tuesday, August 24, 1999 Published at 17:45 GMT 18:45 UK

World: Africa

Angola: Desperate days in a town under siege

Young and old are dying every day in Malanje

By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley in Malanje

It was the town they hoped would provide safe refuge from the attacks which had forced them out of their villages.

Watch Jane Standley's full report from Malanje
But Malanje, home for 140,000 Angolans who fled here to escape bombardments by the Unita rebels, has been shelled nearly every day this year.

The town is besieged and the sanctuary has run out of food and medicine. Only the most desperate get help - others have to be turned away every day.

And although the aid agencies are trying - they have just returned to Malanje after the shelling kept them out for months - it is hard to get enough supplies in.

[ image: Angolans feel the world has forgotten them]
Angolans feel the world has forgotten them
Few drivers want to brave the ambushes and landmines of the road to the town during the heaviest fighting and the most intense suffering there has been for years in Angola.

The crisis is affecting all those who fled here - young and old are dying.

Many of the elderly people are simply too weary to cook the United Nations food handouts for themselves.

And even if they could summon up the strength, finding firewood means braving the guns and landmines just outside the town.

The UN, which is warning of a humanitarian disaster in Angola, says at least 200 people are dying every day in the war-ravaged country.

[ image: Fighting is fierce on the government front line]
Fighting is fierce on the government front line
The crisis comes after heavy fighting between the government and Unita resumed while the West was watching Kosovo at the beginning of the year.

But Angola has known war for 40 years and these people have grown up knowing nothing else. They feel the world has turned its back on them.

And they may be right; aid donors have given the UN less than a third of the money it needs to keep them alive.

Only the most desperate in Malanje get help - others have to be turned away every day.

Meanwhile, on the government front line young conscripts are fighting rebels from Unita - who control half the country - in what used to be an ideological Cold War conflict, but which is now a battle for Angola's great riches of diamonds and oil.

[ image: Around 140,000 Angolans have fled to Malanje]
Around 140,000 Angolans have fled to Malanje
Angolans often say they are cursed - by the riches of their land which fuel the fighting.

In their hours of need there has always been another crisis somewhere else.

And once again, the world is looking the other way.

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